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Tampa's new police Citizens Review Board convenes without acrimony

After activists and civil rights groups spent months calling for Tampa to create a police Civilian Review Board, Mayor Bob Buckhorn made it official in August. The 11-member board will hold its first meeting tonight at 6 in the city council chambers. Five members were selected by the mayor, seen here at a February news confererence announcing the city's new gun bounty program. The mayor also picked two alternates. Four other board members were selected by City Council. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
After activists and civil rights groups spent months calling for Tampa to create a police Civilian Review Board, Mayor Bob Buckhorn made it official in August. The 11-member board will hold its first meeting tonight at 6 in the city council chambers. Five members were selected by the mayor, seen here at a February news confererence announcing the city's new gun bounty program. The mayor also picked two alternates. Four other board members were selected by City Council. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Feb. 24, 2016

TAMPA — After months of heated disagreement among city leaders, law enforcement and the public, the first meeting of Tampa's police citizens review board went off without a whisper of rancor Tuesday night.

There were no protests, no arguments, no split decisions. The board's 11 members decided where they will sit during meetings, selected a chair and vice chair, and learned about Florida's public records laws.

"I'm surprised there's not more people here," said Lee Andrews, a public relations student from the University of South Florida, the only person to speak during the meeting's public comment portion. "Perhaps public relations could put more people in the seats here."

Starting at its next meeting, the board will review closed internal affairs cases involving the use of force and police pursuits from the Tampa Police Department, along with other topics of public concern.

The push for a citizens review board gained momentum last year after a Tampa Bay Times report revealed racial disparities in how often police issue bicycle citations.

The report found that more than 80 percent of the department's bicycle tickets went to black cyclists. Tampa police also wrote more bike tickets than St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami combined.

In response, the city asked the U.S. Department of Justice's community policing office to review its practices. That report is expected to be completed later this year.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn created the review board in August at the urging of civil rights groups and activists.

The ensuing months saw disagreements among Buckhorn, the City Council and community members about the size of the board, who would appoint its members and how much power it would wield.

Ultimately, the mayor and council agreed to an 11-member board. Five members were selected by the mayor, along with two alternates. Four others were chosen by City Council members.

On Tuesday night, board members unanimously selected Rasheed Ali Aquil, a north Tampa business owner, to be their chair.

"It's definitely an honor to be selected," Aquil said. "I'm glad you have the confidence in me to lead. I will do my best to form a team of independent citizens."

Irene Guy, a former executive with Verizon, was selected to be vice chair.

"I think we have a great police department in Tampa," Guy said. "There are other communities in this country that really need these boards. I think the biggest challenge will be seeing what we're doing and what we can accomplish."

The rest of the board members are:

• The Rev. Bartholomew Banks, pastor at St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church for 23 years and formerly Hillsborough County's director of aging services.

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• Dr. Carolyn Hepburn-Collins, the past president and current executive committee member of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP.

• E.J. Salcines, a retired appellate judge, former Hillsborough County state attorney and local historian.

• Lincoln Tamayo, the head of school at Academy Prep Center of Tampa.

• Robert Shimberg, a lawyer with the law firm Hill Ward Henderson and chairman of the board of Metropolitan Ministries. A former state prosecutor, he also has served on the board of the Tampa Housing Authority.

• Donna Stark, a business analyst with Hillsborough County.

• Mary Dahmer, a worker with the state Department of Children and Families.

The two alternate members are:

• Lee Lowry, the former president of the Junior League of Tampa and director of development and communications at St. John's Episcopal Day School.

• Bemetra Simmons, BB&T's Hillsborough County market president and a board member of the Tampa Housing Authority.

Members were required to attend the department's citizens academy and to spend nine hours riding along with police officers.

Anthony Zambito, the captain in charge of the department's Professional Standards Bureau, will serve as a liaison to the board.

After cases are reviewed, the board likely will submit a report to the police chief, said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty. They will be able to make recommendations, including proposed changes to police policies.

The board's next meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 22 in City Council chambers.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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